I was speaking to a CRA candidate the other day and was impressed with how well he presented himself.  Not only did he have a lovely personality, but his communication skills were also terrific, and he was nailing my competency questions.

One of our clients is currently looking for Clinical Research Associates with CAR-T experience, and he represented that he had significant strength in this space. I asked him to dig into the details, and of course, he started discussing the company and studies where he gained that experience.    

All sounds terrific, doesn’t it? The issue is that none of this was on his resume. The company wasn’t listed (another one was listed in its place), and while he had a therapeutic table within his resume, there was no mention of CAR-T nor Oncology or Hema/Oncology in that table.  Does that mean he falsified his credentials?  Not necessarily…but it could. Being able to identify face CRA resumes is critical, especially when you feel connected to the candidate during the interview.   

We have been stating this for years, but it bears repeating: you would be shocked to know that we sort through an extremely high percentage of CRA candidates who have submitted fake resumes to us. I could bore you with statistics but instead will simply state that in an industry which focuses on patient safety (and therefore doing the right thing is critically important), we have identified over nine thousand “Fake” CRAs in North America so far. My team estimates that approximately 30% of candidates applying to our open positions have falsified all or part of their credentials. 

I am speaking about completely fraudulent…outright fake resumes. In real life, these individuals drive trucks, work in call centers, are financial or software analysts, or are employed within the IT industry; however, their resumes falsely indicate they have several years of experience in Clinical Research as a CRA. 

And these individuals don’t always work alone. 

There are support groups that help these CRA candidates write out fake resumes, they offer assistance so these candidates can pass the interview, and they provide references and employment verification. It is organized, and if you aren’t careful, you will do everything right and still make a bad hire.

So how do you identify these fake candidates?

We have identified a few trends to keep in mind when evaluating resumes, with the goal being to pick out the fake ones. Some of these trends are easy to spot; however, others are more difficult to identify, and I am sure that for each preventative step we take, these fake CRA candidates and their support groups are taking steps to counter them.

As a side note, I have been challenged many times that the interview should identify these individuals as clueless. While I disagree (more on why interviewing won’t necessarily identify false credentials), my response to this challenge is simple: why waste your time interviewing fake candidates? If you are able to identify fake resumes early in the recruitment cycle, shouldn’t you?

The simple answer is yes; the resume or early correspondence with the job seeker will often reveal that something fishy is going on. Alone, most of these won’t identify falsification but be looking for trends. 

  • The candidate has asked for a below-market rate or salary.
  • The resume contains lots of self-employment or consulting with no clients listed. After all, anyone can have an active LLC or Corporation…but that doesn’t mean they have active clients.
  • There are no gaps in employment. As a Hiring Manager, you always want to be on the lookout for gaps in employment because you want an explanation for those gaps; however, it is just as much of a flag to see a resume with zero employment gapsespecially if they are representing themselves as a consultant. Did they really always have another contract or assignment to go to…even when the company shut down, the study was suspended; therefore, they had a consulting gig that suddenly ended, etc.?
  • The companies listed on the resume may not be real! Don’t assume that the company is real because there is a website or a location listed on Google. If you have not heard of the company before, check State Registrars (Manta, Secretary of State, etc.) to confirm the company is or was a real company. We actually use OpenCorporates as this resource not only scrapes the various State registrars but also registrars in other countries.  We have a long list of “fake” companies consistently used by candidates pretending to have CRA experience – and 90% of them have websites as well as locations listed on Google.
  • Be on the lookout for resumes with several years of offshore experience. Unfortunately, verifying the employment of positions in other countries is extremely difficult.
  • We have seen a strong trend where candidates have listed MULTIPLE companies on their resume, which do (or did) exist but have since been acquired or gone out of businesseither they have terrible luck in selecting employment, or there is something fishy about their credentials. Digging deeper to verify that a) the company was in existence when the candidate stated they worked with them and b) if the dates do align with the company’s date of operations, confirming the individual really worked at these companies can be complicated as well as time-consuming. If you need a checklist or some assistance with this, let us know, and we will be glad to help.
  • The individual has no digital footprint. In our industry, it is extremely unusual to have no LinkedIn profile or social media footprint (especially as a consultant), so this should send up a flag right away. 
  • Check the “old-fashioned way” by calling the company directly and conducting an employment verification (this doesn’t work for consultants). Although company policies differ on this topic, legally, anyone can conduct an employment verification without infringing on the job seeker’s rights. Questions legally allowed to ask during an employment verification include Dates of Employment, Title when Employed, Salary when Employed, Reason for Leaving, and Eligibility for Rehire.

As you review the resume with the above checklist in hand, remember that you are looking for trends. There are a lot of gray areas…as there is rarely a “black/white” factor to consider. For example, we have zero tolerance for someone who lists a fake company on their resume. At the same time, other flags like lack of digital footprint and no gaps in employment will not stop us from progressing a candidate through our qualification process. We simply dig deeper while interviewing.

The key is knowing what to look for, and when the candidate checks several of these boxes, the fishy smell may mean you should steer clear.

Optimizing Your Interview Process

As mentioned before, you cannot always weed out fake CRAs by evaluating their resume, as a well-crafted resume or believable online identity can certainly cause you to miss something crucial during the pre-qualification process. The interview itself should be a useful tool in gauging the candidate’s aptitude for the position requirements as well as the verity of their experience claims. Consider the following when interviewing your applicants.

  • Conduct a written prequalification. Consider asking the ‘how many years’ questions via email. You will accomplish several things by adopting this methodology:  First, you gauge the candidate’s interest. If the candidate is only ‘kicking tires’ and isn’t truly interested in the position, it is highly likely they will not complete the written prequalification. The good news? This saves you time as, ideally, you want candidates who want the position. Secondly, you not only gain details that outline their stated experience, but you will also obtain a sample of the candidate’s writing style. And thirdly, you will be able to leverage this ‘how many years you have done it’ data during the interview, being able to focus on the competency of the individual (read ‘how good you are at your job’) when you actually speak to the candidate. 
  • Ask the right questions. Based on the role, use an interview template to drive consistency. While many companies like to be creative with the questions they ask, keep in mind that from an equity perspective, by using an interview template, you are giving each candidate the same opportunity during the interview. Of course, your candidates have likely prepared in advance for some common interview questions asked in the field, so be sure to use behavioral and competency-based questions which will dig into their actual experience. 
  • Involve other members of your team. Obtain a second or third opinion. One person can miss warning signs which may point to fraudulence. Consider panel interviews or add an additional interview after the first one in order to involve other members of your team. Then, discuss the outcome of each interview prior to making a ‘go/no go’ decision. Employing this methodology will reduce the risk of something going unnoticed during the interview process. 
  • Add a Presentation component. Asking a candidate to create and deliver a presentation as part of the interview process can be helpful for several reasons. The first reason is that it can increase engagement by both the interviewer and interviewee. A highly experienced and engaged candidate will be able to display their knowledge and likely show more of their personality to you, thus enabling you to make a more informed hiring decision. Secondly, and most relevant to this article, undertaking an atypical interview practice can be useful for throwing fraudsters off their game. It is likely that they come into an interview prepared for the typical experience, but getting creative with your methods can help you further weed out fraud.
  • Interview via video. If performed correctly, the benefits of conducting a video interview cannot be understated. We love conducting video interviews as this enables us to better build a connection with the CRA while at the same time seeing how the candidate presents themselves. However, as stated in one of our articles on interviews and fraudulence, video interviews are not bulletproof when it comes to identifying fraudulence.  Do them. It is worth it. But know how to protect yourself from fraudulence during the video interview process.
  • Trust your instincts. Does something seem off? Did something in their interview give you the impression they’re not being entirely truthful or have something to hide? It is your job to hire the right people, so don’t hesitate to schedule a second interview with another team member(s) to see if anyone else has the same “gut churns” you do.

Outsource your search to a professional. craresources offers you access to our network of verified Clinical Research Associates and can vouch for every single one of their experience. Additionally, by engaging with craresources, our listing of ‘fake’ companies, interview templates, and ‘tried and true’ vetting methodologies are all at your disposal. Because vetting and placing CRAs is all we do, we will save you time, reduce your hiring stress, and minimize the risk of hiring a fake or incompetent CRA.